Wes Anderson's Films: Ranked from good to magical

Where will your favourite place in this ranking of all ten Wes Anderson feature films?

Let me say this first. There are no awful Wes Anderson films, only features that don’t match his impeccably high standards. Each marked by his distinctive style of bold colour palettes and perfect symmetry, they are instantly recognisable, yet unique. Alongside cinematographer Robert Yeoman, in ten films Anderson has created a whole universe that is entirely his own. 

Separating the magical from the good is a difficult task, but an enjoyable one nonetheless. This list focuses less on the technicalities that make a film good, and more about how they made me feel. It concerns how engaging the characters were or how whisked away I was by Anderson’s kaleidoscope of narratives. Here is my take on Wes Anderson’s feature films to date. 

Beware, there’s an overwhelming reference to Bill Murray. 

10. The Darjeeling Limited (2007)

The story of three brothers reconnecting over a train journey across India, has captivated many. However I struggle to relate to these protagonists in the way others have. 

There are two main problems with this film for me. The first of these, is that India is merely a backdrop for the brothers to discover some kind of enlightenment. It is all a bit of a ‘gap yah’ for me. Secondly the lack of femininity in the film bothers me slightly. Anjelica Huston, the most significant female presence, is their estranged mother, now a nun in the Himalayas. She is the source of the brothers’ conflict due to her abandonment of them, and for a role so integral to the actions of the protagonists, she barely features on screen. Maybe that’s the point, but I am a massive advocate for more women on screen.

Others may rate this outing higher, but for me Anderson’s prologue to this film, ‘Hotel Chevalier’, is much more enjoyable. 

9. Bottle Rocket (1996)

Bottle Rocket feels a little mixed up stylistically. It has aspects of the Anderson trademark, but as his directorial debut, his style isn’t completely realised. That is no reason to be harsh on it however, even if it isn’t one of my favourites. The film follows a group of friends who want to be criminals, and one of the crimes they plan to commit is pulling off a heist in a bookstore. This is such a typically quirky Anderson idea, and the heist becomes a feature of most of his subsequent films.

There’s a 90s slacker feel to this film, which you don’t see from his films afterwards. It makes this feature feel more stand alone in this regard, and it contrasts to his later films which are all made with clinical precision. Overall, Bottle Rocket has a film school feel, making a movie with your mates, which makes it enjoyable and off putting at the same time.

8. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)

Bill Murray as an oceanographer wearing a little red beanie. Perfection! Steve Zissou sets out in his boat the Belafonte to hunt down the jaguar shark that killed his friend. Aesthetically this is a beautiful film. The dollhouse cutaway of the Belafonte is exquisite, offering an immersive tour into this world. We also see Anderson’s experimentations with stop-motion puppets to generate the underwater sea creatures, this blend of animation and reality elevating the film.

The story is what hampers this outing, however, as the film does drag. In particular the love triangle between Steve and his potential long lost son Ned for the affection of Jane, becomes tiresome extremely quickly. The film cannot rank much higher, despite its gorgeous design, because of its narrative shortcomings.

7. The French Dispatch (2021)

Wes Anderson’s homage to The New Yorker, The French Dispatch is set in a fictional French city, the title relating to the name of an American magazine composed of a collection of stories. The film plays out its final issue, each containing segments of different unrelated stories. 

What this film demonstrates is how well realised the worlds Wes Anderson creates are. You feel like he could write a whole book on the ‘Chessboard Revolution’ and for a while I was fooled into thinking Tip Top was a niche 60s singer (bonus, it's Jarvis Cocker!). The individual stories make the film feel quite fragmented, and the classic ensemble cast has become far too large, as none of the characters within the magazine’s office feel developed- especially Bill Murray’s editor. 

The film also misses the colour and vitality Anderson brings, with most of it being in black and white, sometimes jumping back to colour. However, this is forgiven by the brilliant animated chase sequence towards the end, which feels as if you are watching the New Yorker cartoons dancing right in front of you. 

6. Isle of Dogs (2018)

A canine flu, ‘snout fever’, spreads around Japan, and all of the dogs are banished to Trash Island. Atari, a 12 year old boy, sets off on a journey to recover his lost dog, Spots. It is this that is the emotional drive of the film and what importantly connects the audience to a world of stop-motion dogs. 

Despite the darkness, there is great humour in these canines, gruff and human-like dialogue contrasting with their cute little faces. This is key to the brilliance of the film and where the ensemble nature of Anderson’s films really comes into its own. Hearing the familiar voices of Edward Norton, Jeff Goldblum and Murray, makes it feel more adult and dramatic, making the emotion of these dogs more believable. 

The setting of Japan feels rather thrown in, aestheticised as a nod to one of Anderson’s influences, filmmaker Akira Kurosawa. You get the sense this film could have been set anywhere and have the same impact. Wes Anderson’s most enthralling films are when the story and setting work in harmony with each other. Isle of Dogs doesn’t quite achieve this.

5. Rushmore (1998)

Rushmore centres around Max, Jason Schwartzman, a student with a penchant for extra curriculars, but not necessarily academics. Its most off putting element is Max’s fixation and love for his teacher, Rosemary. I cannot dismiss the lengths he goes to in order to make her fall in love with him as Anderson quirks, as they are creepily obsessive. 

However, I can overlook this because the relationship central to the film, Max and Blume, played by an ageing Bill Murray, is touchingly beautiful. One of the scenes, which stands out across Anderson’s whole filmography, is when Max offers Blume his badges, one for perfect attendance the other for punctuality. He suggests they both have one each, and Murray deadpan delivers “I’ll take punctuality”. You can see Max’s pride that the badges are from Rushmore academy and is a simple, yet emotive example of their father/son relationship.

Rushmore is full of these small meaningful scenes that hit you harder than you’re expecting due to their subtlety, which is why the film ranks towards the top of this list.

4. The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

Wes Anderson is always balancing dark and light themes in his films, but this is especially exemplified in The Royal Tenenbaums. A family of has-been child prodigies are told by their estranged father, Royal, that he is dying. It turns out, in fact, he is lying. The film is full of despicable unlikeable characters, yet you root and care for them entirely. 

Every man seems to be obsessed with the adopted daughter, Margot, in a manic pixie dream girl sort of way, which is frustrating. However, Wes Anderson writes her as more than this. A muse to every man she meets, her own passions finally take centre stage by the end of the film. She is deliberately mysterious which is less of a character trait for her, and more of a criticism that all of the men regard her as this mystery to be solved. I am a big fan of annoying, imperfect women in film and Margot Tenenbaum gives me just that.

3. Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

Visually this film is magical. Anderson utilises the natural surroundings of the island it is set on, giving the film such a fresh colour palette. Sam Shakusky and Suzy Bishop are two children who fall in love and run away. This film is incredibly character driven, and one of Anderson’s best written films, brilliant lines scattered everywhere (“I love you but you don’t know what you’re talking about”).

As with all Anderson films, there is a sadness underlining it. Sam is an orphan, whose scout camp all dislike him and Suzy’s parents, two lawyers, played by Frances McDormand and Bill Murray, are so clearly out of love they only speak to each other in legal jargon. The two children are surprisingly adult, their escape feeling like a rational response to their circumstances. 

The soundtrack that runs throughout the film is another highlight, again making the children seem more adult and sophisticated. They listen to composers such as Benjamin Britten or the French singer Francoise Hardy. Every element works together so well in this film, and you are truly swept along with Anderson’s adventure. All that is left to consider is, was Snoopy a good dog? Who’s to say? But he didn’t deserve to die.

2. Fantastic Mr Fox (2009)

This stop-motion animation is the perfect way anyone could adapt Roald Dahl’s work. It manages to incorporate the weird and wonderful world of Roald Dahl, whilst also conforming to Anderson’s quirks and aesthetic. Mr Fox returns to his thieving ways after promising his wife, Felicity, he would stop. I am a big fan of animals doing human things in film, so it is no wonder this film ranks so highly for me.

In this film we see Anderson’s meticulous attention to detail really shine. The rustles of Mr Fox’s fur in the wind, make him seem alive, not just an animation. It is a difficult job to connect an audience to characters that aren’t portrayed by humans, but I feel more invested in these clay figurines than most other Wes Anderson characters. The cinematography takes you to a British autumn in the countryside, entirely transportative.

My highlight of the whole film has to be Willem Dafoe’s psychotic rat. In such a short space of time Anderson turns this antagonist into a West Side Story enthusiast who has a rather emotional death. It speaks for itself below.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mp1_PuUoSaM

1. The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

Here we are! Numero uno! 

It is of course The Grand Budapest Hotel. We are taken back in time to a fictional nation in interwar Europe, following the escapades of the Grand Budapest Hotel’s concierge Monsieur Gustave H and his lobby boy, Zero. The film is well known for its confectionary colours and delicious decadence. Yet, there is more to this film that stops it from being style over substance.

We see a career best performance from Ralph Fiennes, who plays the debonair concierge vivaciously, making every moment he is on screen a pure joy to witness. Alternatively Tony Revolori is a breakout star as Zero, little given away about his refugee character. Zero and Agatha’s relationship is sweet without being saccharine. On first viewing you believe the film is about M. Gustave, however after more watches you realise it is centred around Zero’s love for Agatha. That is the power of this film. There are stories within the story that are delightful to discover new on each watch.

Crucially, this film is full of little details that make it feel both magical and real. Boy with Apple feels like it should be hanging in the Louvre and you want to make a pilgrimage to Mendel’s. Despite this film being completely fantastical, you are somehow convinced that this world existed. For me it will always be Wes Anderson’s masterpiece, one that will be pretty difficult to better.

Author

Sheona Mountford

Sheona Mountford Kickstart

Sheona is a Trainee Journalist who recently graduated from the University of Manchester, where she studied History. She likes to look at events in the past and how they tie into the issues of today. Runs a motorsport blog in her spare time and attempts a bit of fiction writing. She aims to highlight local issues from her hometown in Staffordshire.
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Voice magazine stood out because of its variety of topics and the ability for its writers to choose topics they are interested in. It is an excellent opportunity to gain experience and knowledge for magazine writing.

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